reflecting on the past with a letter

A Letter From Half A Life

I’m not sure where I read it, but I remember the second I did I thought “This needs to happen on my blog.” The idea is simple: imagine yourself exactly half your age. Now, write a letter to yourself now. What would reflecting on the past in that way be like? It’s a bit of a twist on a common idea. Here’s part one: a letter from me, to me, 22 years ago.

Dear Gray,

1991FamilySorry if this letter comes out a little grumpy; I just got done with my shift at Denny’s, and they slammed us with a 7-table run just before I got off the line. I smell like grease, my hands are sticky with I-don’t-know-what, and the brakes on the Colt started making noise on the way home.

It’s still a little strange, even being out of the Corps for over a year, to be a civilian. If anything, I’m working harder than I did in the Marines – both in terms of hours and in terms of it just being hard. I mean, being a grunt isn’t any fun, but at least you’re a Marine; I’m having trouble finding a lot of pride in “short-order cook” or “data entry”, especially with all the “you have great potential!” I’ve gotten my whole life.

I feel like the deck is stacked against me. M and I both work, but it’s still not enough to make ends meet – she is finally doing some work after that horrible high-risk pregnancy, and thankfully the twins are doing ok, but even with my insurance the bills are staggering. We’re on welfare, and WIC, and food stamps, and that’s with both of us working full time. In my Psych 101 class they talked about “stresses that affect marriages.” They listed things like: military service, multiple kids, interracial, marrying young…you name it, we were on the list. I mean, I’m 22, she’s only 20, and we have four kids and barely two high school diplomas between us. What kind of future can that really bring?

I’m still hanging on to the same things that got me through the Corps – Charlotte Joko Beck’s Zen: Love & Work, and Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior, and Richard Bach, of course. I do T’ai Chi in the bathroom at work when I can get away with it, and play piano still – sometimes even with the girls, which is fun. Ash and Bri are pretty funny little girls, and we’ve gotten Danica and Danielle to smile once in a while when they’re not squawking for their bottles.

I don’t know if M is going to handle it, though – I know she feels the stress too, and we fight a lot. It’s weird…it’s like I can’t even look myself in the eye any more when I shave in the morning, because I look and I just see this guy who ruined a perfectly good life and dragged along M and the girls with him. There’s nothing to look forward to but eighteen years of mind-numbing jobs and bills and this slowly growing distance between me and M.

Seriously, buddy, I don’t know what you’re looking at from where you are, twenty-two years down the line, but I really feel sorry for this mess I’ve gotten us both into. Somewhere that bright and shiny life I thought I was making for you, back when I was starting college…it all just went some wonky, weird direction. I’m not even sure where it went so wrong. Then again, maybe it’s just like realizing you forgot to put on the turn signal as your car is hurtling down a cliff after you should have turned the other way. Too little, too late…

Well, the one good thing you got is your daughters. Them, I can promise to love and take care of. Everything else, well…wish me luck.

Seems kind of depressing? Well, age 22 was not a good one for me. In fact, part of how I know that is that I didn’t actually keep good records of what was going on that year. I may even have the dates and details wrong in that letter, but I can tell you this: the sense of despair, of my life being over, of me having wasted any opportunity of making anything of my own life…that was all real.

As well as the growing realization that, if I couldn’t do anything for myself, I could do things for my kids – and in fact, that was what I needed to do. Was what followed a wondrous tale of selfless parental sacrifice? Not hardly. I didn’t spend nearly as much time with my kids as I now think I should have, and I also made some very selfish and very stupid decisions along the way.

Then again, don’t we all? And when I write back to myself next Wednesday, it’s going to be interesting to try and describe just what’s happened in the 22 years since then…

I’m not sure I recommend this exercise. It’s been more difficult for me than I expected. But I have found a few gems along the way, and so I’ll give it a cautious coaxing: try to think about what someone half your age might have written to you, now.

And what would you write back?

1 thought on “reflecting on the past with a letter”

  1. I think I will hold on to this exercise for another time. 15 was a rough age and one I feel strongly is left where it was. Teenage angst is not a happy place. I think I’ll just use Green Day as a touchstone for those times and leave it at that. BUT, perhaps I will write one to my 45, or perhaps 60 year old self…seal it up and squirrel it away.

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